ABU DHABI // The Khalifa Fund is targeting Emirati entrepreneurs who have plans for manufacturing products. The shift in strategy is aimed at bolstering production and manufacturing industries in the capital, in line with Abu Dhabi Economic Vision 2030, said Dr Ahmed al Mutawa the head of the Khalifa Fund.
Dr al Mutawa said the fund had received more than 4,000 applications for entrepreneurial projects since its inception three years ago. It approved 211 of those, and gave Dh346 million (US$94m) in loans to young entrepreneurs. The organisation currently limits funding for each project to Dh5m but will increase the ceiling to Dh10m for manufacturing projects. It identified engineering and construction, tourism, information technology, food and beverages, metals and petrochemicals as sectors for investment.
The initiatives are not limited to raw numbers, however. Dr Hala el Sokari, the adviser to Dr al Mutawa, said the fund is also interested in programmes of "social inclusion", such as those aimed at Emiratis with special needs and those who have been in prison. The fund supports the creation of a centre at Abu Dhabi University that will help create a "culture of entrepreneurship", particularly among young Emiratis, according to participants at the Abu Dhabi Forum for Entrepreneurship last week.
The plans made by the university and the fund were accompanied by intensified remarks praising the benefits of small businesses and their potential for job creation in the UAE during difficult economic times. There are plans to create programmes for the Western Region, as well. Most of the projects currently approved by the Khalifa Fund are in Abu Dhabi city. This social inclusion also extends to women, who remain under-represented because of social and cultural barriers. Most Emirati entrepreneurs are married, middle-aged men with some level of work experience, Dr el Sokari said. Only a quarter of projects approved by the fund were proposed by women.
However, Dr al Mutawa said he was happy with participation levels, which are increasing. "We see it growing day by day." More than 40 per cent of young entrepreneurs trained by the fund are women, and they also represent one third of funding applicants. Still, challenges remain. Dr el Sokari said in communities such as Al Ain, males in the household have difficulty accepting that their wives or daughters would work outside the home, possibly with other men.
In addition, she said education bodies needed to emphasise entrepreneurship at an early stage, allowing students to think of potential small business ideas and how to commercialise them. To that end, Abu Dhabi University announced the Centre of Excellence for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, which would act as an "incubator" for ideas for small technology-related ventures, seeding funds for small business projects, building prototypes, training and mentoring, and easing networking.